Sold at Raab: John Adams’ Long-Forgotten Marriage Advice

An autograph album started exactly 200 years ago by a young woman in Massachusetts revealed President John Adams’ unpublished words of wisdom

The Raab Collection announced the discovery and sale of a previously unknown, early 19th-century autograph or “friendship” album, as they were called, bearing marriage advice from a former president and founding father to a young woman. In 1824, John Adams’ advice was simple: Remember where you came from. The volume belonged to Adams’ neighbor, Ellen Maria Brackett, and was handed down through her Massachusetts family continuously before its acquisition this year by Raab. It sold for $40,000 and had not been publicly offered for sale before. Its contents were unknown until now. 

“What makes this so remarkable,” said Nathan Raab, principal at The Raab Collection and author of The Hunt for History  (Scribner, 2020), “is that the Adams note is just one of many pages, each documenting a friend or family sentiment to this young woman during milestones in her life. You get a glimpse into the life of a woman like her at the start of our nation.”

1823 Friendship Album with John Adams Autograph

Earliest Presidential Autograph in an Album

The autograph found within the Brackett album is the earliest presidential signature in an album that public records show having reached the market. We found no other of either Adams or George Washington. According to the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society, only one other example of Adams’ autograph in a similar volume survives, and that is in an institutional collection. By the time the fashion for autograph albums took hold, Adams was too old to oblige requests; this one likely exists only because of their neighborly connection.  

John Adams Autograph in Album

John Adams: Family & Friendship

The Brackett family were neighbors of the Adamses in Quincy, Massachusetts. Following a fad of the day to keep a friendship album, Ellen began hers in 1823. Over the next two years, she filled it with signed poems, quotes, and brief expressions penned by friends and family as she prepared to marry and relocate to Philadelphia. 

On December 14, 1824, Ellen approached John Adams, who offered this message:

Descended as you are from one of the most ancient and respectable inhabitants of the town of Braintree, and having past your life in that part of it now called Quincy, where you acquired your amiable accomplishments, I hope you will carry with you wherever you go an affectionate remembrance of the place of your birth, and the worthy character of your fellow citizens. I rejoice at your prospect of an intimate connection with the family of my excellent friend Judge Peters, and his excellent lady Miss Robinson, both of whom I shall remember with affectionate respect as long as I live. With my most sincere wishes that you may be attended with every prosperity through life…. 

The former president was 88 when he signed this, and at that point in his life no longer hand-wrote his correspondence. His granddaughter typically wrote the texts of the letters as he dictated, and then he signed them himself. That is apparently the case here. 

John Adams Autograph

The album is a touching and extraordinary artifact of early America, showing aspects of a young woman’s life. 

To learn more about this remarkable piece of American history and its sale, Nathan Raab is available for interviews and commentary. 

More From the Newswire

Join Us

Stay informed about new historical documents, historical discoveries, and information for the educated collector.

Collect. Be Inspired.